While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Next up is Cincinnati.
1. Can the Bearcats make the leap?
The program is about to enter its seventh season with coach Mick Cronin at the helm, and there is no doubt that the Cincinnati native has the program turned around and is now headed in the right direction. From losing records to a winning record to the NIT to the Round of 32 to finally the Sweet Sixteen last season, Cronin’s teams have improved their finish almost every season to the point where Bearcats’ fans are beginning to believe like they used to believe when Bob Huggins ran the ship. Now the question is whether Cronin can continue to build on the momentum and success and establish the Bearcats as a long-term contender for the conference crown. Despite the loss of two of their best scorers in Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates, the Bearcats still return a veteran — albeit not very deep — team that should be well-prepared for the rigors of conference play. But can they make it back to the Sweet Sixteen? The team’s run last season was unexpected, but given the talent that returns, it’s not unrealistic to imagine the Bearcats making it back to the NCAA’s second weekend of action. The Bearcats’ fans haven’t been exposed to this level of expectations since Kenyon Martin was still patrolling the paint, but whether they can live up to those lofty goals will be the true barometer of whether Cronin can establish this program among the Big East elite.
2. You can’t teach size and you can never have enough of it.
Already set to boast a frontcourt that features 6-foot-10 Cheikh Mbodj, 6-foot-10 Kelvin Gaines, and 6-foot-8 Justin Jackson, Cronin went out this month and added more size and depth up front anyway in the form of 7-foot-1 center David Nyarsuk. The Sudan native originally signed with West Virginia but never qualified and enrolled at NAIA Mountain State University instead. Nyarsuk averaged 9.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.91 blocks per game against inferior competition last season, but don’t expect him to be quite such a dominant force in the Big East. He will likely make his presence felt immediately on the defensive end of the floor, though, and if he can stay out of foul trouble and hold his own on the blocks, he should receive plenty of playing time because of his shot-altering prowess. He made 55 percent from the field last season but I would guess his offensive game is still a work in progress. He may be good for a few putbacks and an easy dunk or two, but don’t expect the Bearcats to run their offense through him next year. Bearcats’ fans should certainly temper their expectations, but they should also be pleased that their team’s frontcourt now features one more live, athletic body for Cronin and his staff to work with.